How to Run an Instagram Photo Contest: Examples and Tools

César Rodríguez
César Rodríguez
Do you have an active Instagram community? Maybe it’s time to launch an Instagram photo contest? Take a look at different ways of running photo competitions on Instagram and discover all the important aspects that you should have in mind next time you launch a UGC campaign on Instagram.

Instagram continues to be one of the most popular social media networks, it’s expected to reach a whooping 2,5 billion users by the end of 2023. This figure clearly indicates that adding an Instagram photo contest to your marketing strategy can bring about great results. Namely, gathering user-generated content, which is the most valuable kind as it will turn users into brand ambassadors. Which in turn will generate trust among the rest of your audience since UGC is considered more trustworthy than direct communication from brands themselves. Not to mention it will enhance your brand’s online presence. But before you launch your next – or first – photo contest on Instagram, let’s delve into certain things that you should be aware of.

When can I launch an Instagram photo contest?

Instagram Promotion Guidelines clearly point out that online promotions are gladly received on the content sharing network. And any campaign is a good enough reason to organize a photo competition on Instagram; a newly released product; an upcoming popular campaign… Or even a customer loyalty program that you wish to promote. All you need is a catchy idea and an attractive prize that will generate interest and attract a considerable number of participants. Ask users to upload pictures with your products in action, encourage followers to share their favorite memories, or invite them to participate with pictures of their pets just like RSPCA did.

photo contest organized on Instagram by RSPCA

However, if you’re still growing your account and haven’t previously launched an Instagram contest, we suggest you start with a simple Instagram giveaway. It will give you an idea of how active your followers are by seeing how many users enter the promotion. Treat the participant number as an indicator of how ready your following base is for an Instagram photo contest. Remember that UGC contests are more time-consuming and require more effort, therefore, don’t start with an Instagram photo contest if you don’t have many followers, or are unsure whether your audience is enough tech-savvy to sign up for UGC competitions.

Instagram photo contest from Deluxe Beans

What objectives can I achieve with an Instagram photo contest?

It doesn’t get easier than Instagram when it comes to engaging online communities. Apart from being one of the most popular communication channels for brands, Instagram is the most visual social media platform. Simply, there’s no better place to ask users to share visual content. However, it’s important to remember that photo contests require more effort and time than simple comment giveaways. This is why you need a tempting incentive that will attract many entrants ready to put their hands on the big prize. Incentives associated with your brand and appealing to your audience work best. However, online users are also drawn to online competitions with gift cards, store credit, or experiences like a weekend getaway. 

Although they’re a little bit more complicated than sweepstakes. Instagram photo contests are still accessible to the majority of the Instagram community – after all Instagram is all about photo sharing. A UGC campaign on Instagram can help you work towards a variety of different objectives, including:

  • Boosting brand visibility, exposure, and awareness. By inviting Instagram users to share branded content with their followers, you ensure your brand is exposed to more users. That means more views, more visibility, and more awareness for your offering – and without these aspects, there are no sales. Additionally, every user that shares branded content on their social media channels becomes a new brand ambassador.
  • Improving brand authenticity and fostering customer loyalty. We repeat this whenever we talk about user-generated content: UGC is the most authentic and trustworthy content brands share on social media channels. What would you trust more: content produced by the brand or authentic pictures shared by customers that paid for the product? Happy customers = loyal customers.
  • Collect new sales leads. By organizing your Instagram photo contest with an app that asks users to share their contact information you get to maximize lead generation while gathering high-quality UGC. 
  • Additional promotion. By posting branded content on their social media channels, online users spread the word about your company to a wider audience. 
  • Valuable content for your social media channels: last but not least! Entrants grant you permission to reshare their content on your social media channels. This gives your graphic designer a break and your brand a positive perception, as you give visibility to the real relationships established with your consumers.

Example of user-generated content being reused by Starbucks

The above example from Starbucks might not come from an Instagram photo contest but it gives you an opportunity to see how valuable user-generated content is. Apart from giving visibility to a loyal customer, the famous coffee house could also establish greater trust between the brand and potential customers. The UGC picture enhances Starbucks’ authenticity and promotes a real positive experience that the user had with a Starbucks product. 

So before you publish a persuading post to attract participants, showcase your prize and explain participation requirements, you will need to choose an Instagram photo contest tool that not only meets your UGC gathering needs, but also enables you to comply with copyright and image rights requirements. We will delve into this issue later in the article. Having said that, there are three different ways to run your Instagram photo contest.

Types of Instagram Photo Contest

Instagram has become a complex social network with several types of content: image feed, reels, and stories. Moreover, the access to all these functionalities for tools like Easypromos is diverse. For this reason, it’s essential to know all the types of photo contests you can run on Instagram and choose the one that will best help you achieve your campaign’s objectives.

Easypromos is a platform authorized by Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook. It scrupulously complies with their permission and functionalities requirements to be able to use Meta’s developer tools. That’s why our contests on Instagram are highly reliable, but also have limits that allow brands to run contests without risks, with fairness and transparency for users. Follow our advice and choose one of our options to develop your contest on Instagram. You will enjoy the peace of mind of using a reliable and official tool.

Instagram photo contest on users’ profiles

Contests on Instagram share a common primary objective: to turn brand-lovers into brand ambassadors. It’s the option brands have to encourage customers to share their experiences with friends and acquaintances, especially on the social network with the most active users. 

Originally, Instagram content was shared on the user’s feed and was visible to friends (if the account was private) or to everyone (if the account was public). This is important because if the profile is private, the brand doesn’t have access to that content and cannot verify if the mention pertains to it. Based on these premises, the following two types of photo contests on Instagram emerge. Let’s specifically see how to organize them and which might be the best option based on the planned campaign objectives.

Photo contest: post in your feed with mention + hashtag

The first photo contests on Instagram were linked to hashtags (hashtag contests). A brand would create a specific hashtag for users to know they had to add it to their photo to participate. With the evolution of Instagram, it became necessary to also mention the brand for Meta’s tools to track and obtain this user-generated content. It’s not just a matter of collecting copyrighted content, but also acquiring user data such as their username on the social network.

Due to the rise of privacy policies and data protection regulations, the Instagram contest based on hashtag+mention has restrictions: only profiles that are public and use the campaign’s hashtag and brand mention can be collected and stored by Easypromos (as well as any platform external to Instagram).

How to participate in Mention + Hashtag contests on Instagram? Users enter Mention + Hashtag contests by sharing a picture on their Instagram feed. They must mention your brand and use your campaign hashtag to enter the contest. This way, the photo contest app imports their photo and it is shown in your contest gallery.

Mention and Hashtag contest organized by Roots Rants Roars

The key to success is disseminating your Instagram photo contest. Simply put, you need to make sure users know about your campaign and can’t miss it. Share organic posts, invest in ads and make use of Stories; and don’t forget to cross-promote your contest on other platforms and communication channels.

Take a look at the contest organized by Roots Rants Roars, a fall food festival. During the event, the organizers gave some of the attendees branded backpacks. Later on, and in order to re-engage with their audience, Roots Rants Roars asked their audience to share pictures showcasing where they had taken their Roots Rants Roars backpacks. Users entered the contest by uploading a photo to their Instagram account, mentioning @rootsrantsroars and using #MyFoodHike and #HikeNL hashtags. All entries were then displayed in a public photo gallery.

All participating users must have a public Instagram account. They must mention the brand and use the campaign hashtag, otherwise the entry will not be displayed in the contest gallery.

Mention and Hashtag photo contest on Instagram, example of a contest gallery

Take a look at the following post shared by the festival organizers. Can you spot the same picture in the Instagram photo contest gallery that we shared above? Yes! Roots Rants Roars reshared the content submitted by the contest participants. Apart from making use of the UGC, they showed their products in action!

Repurposing user-generated content gathered in an instagram photo contest

Would you like to give more visibility to your brand and collect sales leads? Invite your audience to vote for their favorite entries. Each voter must leave their contact information in order to submit their vote. By enabling the voting system your Instagram photo contest will also be exposed to a wider public as contest participants are more likely to share their entries with friends and family when looking to receive more votes.

Here’s another example from a brand that ran a photo competition and made use of the collected UGC.

Repurposing user-generated content on social media

Interested in learning more about the Mention + Hashtag Instagram contest? Check out this article with Instagram hashtag contest examples. It will help you figure out if it’s the contest format you are looking for.

Photo contest on Instagram: post in your feed and complete the entry form app

With Instagram’s strict regulations and emerging laws in various countries and the European Union, to be able to use user-generated content, it’s not enough for users to simply participate in a contest. Explicit permission is needed where they grant rights to the brand to use and share that content. For this reason, if one of the main goals is to share user-generated content on the brand’s social media platforms, you’ll need to communicate with participants and ask for their consent.

It is a given that in the legal terms of the contest, you will have indicated that by participating in the contest, participants understand and consent to the brand using the images. But a best practice is to ask for explicit consent. Therefore, if you intend to reuse participants’ content, the Instagram contest based on hashtag + entry form is the ideal approach.

Take a look at this Hashtag + Entry form photo contest organized by Inaba, a pet treat brand. As part of their 2023 Halloween campaign, the brand organized a photo contest among its audience. To participate, users had to post a  photo of their cat enjoying one of the brand’s treats using the contest hashtag and fill out the registration form available on the brand’s Instagram BIO. The brand also made a point of clearly stating all participation requirements as well as how winners would be chosen.

Hashtag + Entry form Instagram Photo Contest

In this type of contest, you also ask participants to upload a photo to their Instagram profile, but it doesn’t need to be made public. Hence, it encourages participation because users are often reluctant to change their profile settings. In the second participation step, users fill out a registration form on an app external to Instagram and link the photo from their profile with which they wish to participate in the contest.

This kind of competition is ideal if the brand wants to identify its customers and reward them for their loyalty. Increasing the brand’s reach takes a back seat: it’s not as important for the user to help promote the brand as it is to show their satisfaction with the product through a photograph. The brand will then be in charge of sharing with the public how satisfied its customers are.

The Instagram Hashtag + Entry form contest is ideal for gathering User-Generated Content (UGC) and, with it, the explicit consent of participants that the brand can use it. The registration form also includes the legal terms, privacy policy, and all the checkboxes that the brand needs to ensure that, by participating in the contest, the user agrees to provide the images for the brand to use. The number of participants may not be as high as in contests where only a photo is required (because we are asking for more contact information). On the other hand, it makes it easy to identify brand lovers, and it is a good strategy to reward them and make the most of their contribution.

Identifying and collaborating with micro influencers has become an established trend  because of the targeted reach, authenticity, and cost-effectiveness they bring; as well as their ability to build authentic connections with their audience.

The spices and herbs brand Ducros used this strategy to promote its products in their Holiday Season campaign. The brand launched a photo contest to select the best Christmas Hors D’Oeuvre recipe among 20 foodie content creators. The brand not only gathered valuable UGC but also reached a wider audience through the micro influencers’ accounts.

Ducros success case

Photo Contest on Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories is one of the most successful formats on Instagram. Hence, brands know that Stories are more likely to be seen by their audience. This has led to an increase in the creation of this type of content in recent years and is the reason why brands organize contests on Instagram Stories. However, Meta’s developer tools to pull information from Instagram Stories are different from other Instagram contests and are only available for 24 hours. Launching a photo contest on Instagram was difficult and unreliable, but that changed when Easypromos launched its Instagram Story Giveaway app

Within the Instagram Story Giveaway app, the Story + Mention modality allows brands to monitor profiles that post stories mentioning the brand. This enables brands to organize photo contests among users who generate User-Generated Content (UGC) that features the brand, and consequently, rewards them. It’s worth mentioning that this is not a voting-based contest: the tool compiles users who have posted a story mentioning the brand in a list. The organizer must then review the list to ensure that the shared content is part of the contest. Additionally, the app provides organizers with the tools to disqualify participants who do not meet the requirements. At the end of the participation period (contests usually last 1 to 4 days, maximum 7), organizers can use the random winner-picking tool to select the winners from among the list of finalists.

Kinder Bueno success case

Another way to select contest winners on Instagram Stories is with a jury. In this case, the brand should save the images shared by the participants. A practical way to do this is to share them as stories of their own and save them in the Highlights section. Managing the jury voting process must be done from the band’s own profile, as Easypromos does not have permission to store these images. The platform can only display the link to the Instagram URL where the story appears, and this link disappears after 24 hours.

As you can see, this is a more complex dynamic than other contests on Instagram, but it also provides an extra benefit. All contests that upload photos to Instagram generate authority and visibility for the brand. However, the Instagram Stories contest provides much more visibility, making it the go-to choice if you want users to share their photos in their stories.

See now an example to check the potential of this competition type. The Spanish fashion brand Adolfo Dominguez organized a Mention Story Giveaway. The idea behind the contest was to encourage people to wear the same outfit to work every Monday as a way to reduce decision anxiety. Participants had to post a story with a photo of their outfit, mentioning the brand. The brand repeated the giveaway on a weekly basis and rewarded the users who followed the trend. It is worth mentioning that the brand promoted the giveaway and explained the participation dynamics in their feed and included a link in the BIO with the terms and conditions.

Photo Contest on Instagram to collect leads and UGC permissions

The next example works well for anyone looking for a straightforward photo contest tool that works well on Instagram and other social media networks. The Easypromos Voting Contest app can be used to run a photo contest on any channel, website, or even forum. All you have to do is create a series of posts, ads, Stories, and newsletters to share the link to your contest and you’re good to go.

Here’s an example from Head On Photo Fest. The organizers share weekly reminders to give visibility to their contest and draw the attention of potential participants that are hesitating or still don’t know about the competition.

Example of how to use reminders to promote your Instagram photo contest

Take a look at this example from Humphreys Witch Hazel. The beauty brand wanted to collect user-generated content showing how customers use the Humphreys Witch Hazel products at home. The organizers shared a link in their Instagram bio that redirected users to the photo contest where they had a chance to win a $250 gift card.

Online photo contest on Instagram organized by Humphreys

So, how does participation in a traditional photo contest on Instagram work? Interested participants fill out a registration form and upload the picture that they wanted to participate with. All entries are then displayed in a public gallery, making it easy for entrants to share their submissions.

Mobile screenshots showing how Humphreys promoted their competition on Instagram

If you wish to involve participants in promoting the competition, the Voting Contest app is the ideal choice. Why? Because winners (or finalists) are selected by popular vote and every participating photo or album has a specific URL that participants can share to gather votes directly. Consequently increasing the contest’s visibility and reach
More often than not, brands are hesitant to organize a voting contest as dishonest or fraudulent behavior by some participants may pose a risk to the brand. However, Easypromos’ fraud control system allows for the secure management of vote contests. Additionally, you can apply the following precautions when organizing your vote contest:

  • Organize a voting stage to select the finalists, then choose the winner with a jury.
  • Carry out a random final draw to pick the winner from among participants who have attained a minimum number of votes.
Voting Contest

Use the Voting Contest App whenever you want to organize a photo contest across different social media platforms. Apart from disseminating your competition on Instagram, you can also share it with your Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok followers. A great idea would be to promote your contest on Stories and your website for further exposure and more new leads.

How can I choose a winner for my Instagram photo contest?

Running an Instagram photo contest means that you will have to choose a winner and the best way to do it will depend of the kind of contest:

  • Choose a winner using our random winner picker tool. When it comes to contests on Instagram Stories or any other dynamic taking place directly on this social network, the best practice is to compile all participants in a list and select the winners randomly. 
  • Have an internal jury choose the best picture. This is always a good option. However, make sure you clearly state who the jury is and how and when the ci¡inners will be announced.
  • Reward the participant with the most votes. This is a feasible option if you are using the Voting Contest app. We strongly advise against using likes as a voting tool on Instagram contests.

Don’t use Instagram likes as a voting tool. This feature is not equipped with an anti-fraud system and it would most likely create trouble for your brand’s reputation. Always use a voting app to organize this kind of contest.

Keep this in mind when organizing an Instagram photo contest

To wrap it up, here’s a list of things that you should keep in mind next time you organize an Instagram competition:

  • Choose the application that best meets your needs.
  • Choose an attractive prize, relevant to your niche.
  • Create a series of organic and promoted posts to disseminate your Instagram photo contest.
  • Cross-promote your Instagram photo contest on other social media platforms and communication channels.
  • Share terms and conditions explaining all the participation requirements, dates, and age or location restrictions.
Types of Instagram Photo Contest

We hope you found this article useful to help you create and launch your photo contest on Instagram. However, if you still have doubts on how to proceed don’t hesitate to contact our customer support team vial live chat. We will be happy to help!

request a DEMO